Thaipoosam cavadee is one of the most popular festivals celebrated by Indo-Mauritians whose ancestors originated from Tamil Nadu, India.
Kovil in Mauritius
The festival, which is held in either January or February each year according to the Tamil calendar and in devotion to Lord Muruga, is preceded by the kodi etram.
Ten days prior cavadee, a flag hoisting ceremony (kodi etram) is held and celebrated in a grand pomp of incantations and devotional music. The flag will float till the end of the festival.
All around Mauritius, the rituals are performed in temples which are known as kovils and characterized by their Dravidian architecture. Amidst recitation of prayers, flowers and sandalwood are offered alongside burning of camphor to implore Lord Muruga’s grace.
Thus start a ten-day purifying period of fasting, prayers, penitence and atonement for those devotees who will participate in the cavadee ceremony.
Besides abstinence from sensual gratifications, a rigorous vegetarian regime is observed and joined in by family members. Prayers and verses from Hindu epics are daily recited at home and kovils for the removal of passion and desire.
The jaunty ethnic characteristic of Thaipoosam Cavadee may very well impress as much as fascinate the casual onlooker. On that day fervent devotees to the cult of Muruga, accompanied by relatives and friends, will gather near river banks for the ablution rituals or near the sea. Dressed in fuchsia or saffron-colour cloth, they will join the officiating priest in prayers and mantra-chanting. Fruits, incense sticks, rose water, milk and clarified butter are offered as oblations around sacrificial fires for self-purification and sanctifying the kavadis.
Kavadis are arched bamboo structures supported by wooden rods and richly decorated with fragrant flowers, coconut tree leaves, lime and peacock feathers.
The ceremonial procession to the kovils starts by the pulling of a chariot carrying the bronze statuette of Deity Muruga. All along the way many kavadi-bearers will engage in ritualistic gyrating dance tuned to the rhythm of Tamil devotional trance music.
Women and children normally carry brass pots of "sacred milk" instead of kavadis. Mortification of the flesh is very common and most devotees will have their tongue and cheeks ritualistically pierced by small spears known as vels. Men can additionally have their chest, back, abdomen and legs pierced.
Those believers who do not choose to have their body pierced, usually tie a scarf around their mouth as a vow of silence, meditation and devotion.
The kavadi is considered a physical burden which the devotees, at times to the limit of their endurance, religiously carry to the kovils to implore Lord Muruga, the Tamil God of War, for help and solace.
At the temples tasty prasadam (sanctified vegetarian food) are served to devotees and visitors on banana leaves after all vels have been removed and offerings laid down at the feet of deities.
Cavadee originates from an ancient Tamil legend, the story of Idumban, a reformed bandit. One day his guru, Agattiyar, ordered, “Set off for the mountains, Idumban, and bring me back two summits! You will attach them at the ends of a cavadee.”
Idumban set off accompanied by his wife. Having achieved his objective he began the journey home but the god, Lord Muruga, changed himself into a little boy and hid in one of the peaks so as to make it heavier. Idumban discovered him and in anger began to fight with the little boy. But Muruga pierced him with his spear and he died.
Through their prayers, Agattiyar and his followers insistently asked Muruga to resurrect Idumban and the god granted their wish. To thank him, it was decided that those who carry a cavadee (yoke) to his temple would have their wishes granted and should thank the god for his favours and emulate his wisdom and kindness.
The legend reminds followers that the road to faith is long and hazardous, but that love and determination can help achieve great things. “Thaipoosam Cavadee” takes place in either January or February, and on the night before the ritual starts, devotees prepare their cavadees for the trial ahead.
The next day a flag bearing the symbol of a spear and a peacock is hoisted at the entrance to the temple, marking the beginning of the festival and a ten day fast. The faithful must purify their hearts and souls and a bracelet is tied around each participant’s wrist as a symbol of commitment and obedience. They must go to the temple to pray, sing hymns and make offerings.
At dawn on the tenth day of fasting, the worshippers assemble at the temple before moving in procession to a river for the rite of purification. This involves invoking Muruga’s blessing and the pouring of fresh cow milk into two small brass pots called ‘sombus’ which are then tied to each side of a cavadee.
Next, the penitents have their bodies pierced with needles and hooks though female devotees have either their cheeks or tongue pierced. Devotees who do not have any part of their body pierced wear a piece of saffron-dyed cloth around the mouth instead.
When this ceremony has been completed, the procession moves slowly back towards the temple where the cavadees are dismounted and the piercings removed. The devotees bring their sombus to the priest who pours the milk over a statue of Muruga. Some of this milk is collected and given back to be drunk and shared with deep veneration. An act of great sacrifice has been consummated and Muruga has blessed everyone.
The next day devotees gather at the temple to take part in a brief ceremony whereupon the flag is brought down. Thus ends the very elaborate and austere festival known as Cavadee.
Skanda (or Murugan) was created during one of the battles between the Asuras (or to be more specific Soorapadman) and the Devas. At one point, the latter were defeated several times by the former. The Devas were unable to resist the onslaught of the Asura forces. In despair, they approached Shiva and entreated to give them an able leader under whose heroic leadership they might obtain victory over the Asuras. They surrendered themselves completely and prayed to Shiva. Shiva granted their request by creating the mighty warrior, Skanda, out of his own power or Achintya Shakti. He at once assumed leadership of the celestial forces, inspired them and defeated the Asura forces and to recognize that day the people created the festival.
According to Skanda Puranam, the legend of Murugan, and Thirupugal which are divine verses on Murugan, adhere to Shaivam principles, Murugan is Shivan’s lights form and devotees pray to him as a wisdom of God. Murugan is the wisdom form of Shivan. The motive of Thaipusam festival is to pray to God to receive his grace so that bad traits are destroyed.
Kavadi or Cavadee
Thaipusam offers to God
Kavadi Attam is a dance performed by the devotees during the ceremonial worship of Murugan, the Tamil God of War. It is often performed during the festival of Thaipusam and emphasizes debt bondage. The Kavadi itself is a physical burden through which the devotees implore for help from the God Murugan.
Generally, Hindus take a vow to offer a kavadi to idol for the purpose of tiding over or averting a great calamity. For instance, if the devotee's son is laid up with a fatal disease, he would pray to Shanmuga to grant the boy a lease of life in return for which the devotee would take a vow to dedicate a kavadi to Him.
Devotees prepare for the celebration by cleansing themselves through prayer and fasting approximately 48 days before Thaipusam. Kavadi-bearers have to perform elaborate ceremonies at the time of assuming the kavadi and at the time of offering it to Murugan. The kavadi-bearer observes celibacy and take only pure, Satvik food, once a day, while continuously thinking of God.
On the day of the festival, devotees will shave their heads and undertake a pilgrimage along a set route while engaging in various acts of devotion, notably carrying various types of kavadi (burdens). At its simplest this may entail carrying a pot of milk, but mortification of the flesh by piercing the skin, tongue or cheeks with vel skewers is also common.
The simplest kavadi is a semicircular decorated canopy supported by a wooden rod that is carried on the shoulders, to the temple. In addition, some have a small spear through their tongue, or a spear through the cheeks. The spear pierced through his tongue or cheeks reminds him constantly of Lord Murugan. It also prevents him from speaking and gives great power of endurance. Other types of kavadi involve hooks stuck into the back and either pulled by another walking behind or being hung from a decorated bullock cart or more recently a tractor, with the point of incisions of the hooks varying the level of pain.
Nel Parai Alappu
In Palani, Tamil Nadu, India, Thousands of devotees flock to Palani and attend kavadi. According to palani.org, "The number of kavadis reaching Palani for Thai Pusam is about 10,000. For Pankuni Uttiram, 50,000 kavadis arrive. It is kavadi to your right, kavadi to your left, kavadi in front of you, kavadi behind you, kavadi above you and kavadi below you."
In Vadalur (Cudalore district), Saint Vallalar (1823–1874)(Ramalinga Adigalar) established Sathya Gnana Sabai(Lotus Temple). He kept 7 Screens and Camphor lighted Jothi every thaipusam day at 6am, 10am, 1 pm, 7 pm, 10 pm, and the next day 5:30 in this temple. Every monthly Pusam day 7 pm half screen Jothi Darshan performing. This was established in the year 1872, which is the Arutperumjothi Darshan. It can be seen monthly once and yearly six times only, on the state Government Declare local Holiday for the cudalore district.
In Haripad Subramayawsami Temple, Alapuzha, Kerala is famous for Kavadiyattom.Almost 5000 kavadis coming to the temple from many temples in the locality. Garga
In Vaikom, Kerala, India, Thai Pusam festival is conducted with Kaavadis at Udayanapuram Subramanya temple. Devotees take panchamritha kaavadi, paal kaavadi, bhasma kaavadi, etc.
In Karamana, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India, Thai Pusam festival is conducted at Satyavageeswara temple. The utsava moorthy is taken in procession on a vahanam (mount). There is nel(Paddy)parai alappu or Nel alavu, as a ritual performed for good luck and prosperity.
In Cheriyanad Subrahmanya Swami Temple, Chengannur, Alappuzha District, Kerala, India, Thai Pusam is celebrated with more than 500 Kavadis. The rituals are followed in strict manner.
In Nallur, Jaffna, Sri Lanka, Thai Pusam festival is conducted at Nallur Kandhasamy Temple. Many Tamil devotees irrespective of religion take part in celebrations. Even Tamils from Roman Catholic faith and Muslims take part in Thai Pusam celebrations and take Kavadis.
Outside Tamil Nadu
The largest Thaipusam celebrations take place in Mauritius, Malaysia and Singapore. It is a public holiday in several states in Malaysia, including Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Penang, Perak, Kedah, Malacca, Johor, Negeri Sembilan.
ThaiPusam in Malaysia
Batu Caves, Malaysia during Thai Pusam 1985.
In Malaysia, the temple at Batu Caves, near Kuala Lumpur, often attracts over one million devotees and tens of thousands of tourists. The procession to the caves starts at the Sri Mahamariamman Temple, Kuala Lumpur in the heart of the city and proceeds for 15 kilometers to the caves, an 8-hour journey culminating in a flight of 272 steps to the top.Devotees carry containers containing milk as offering to Lord Murugan either by hand or in huge decorated carriers on their shoulders called 'kavadi'. The kavadi may be simple wooden arched semi-circular supports holding a carrier foisted with brass or clay pots of milk or huge, heavy ones which may rise up to two metres, built of bowed metal frames which hold long skewers, the sharpened end of which pierce the skin of the bearers torso. The kavadi is decorated with flowers and peacock feathers imported from India. Some kavadi may weigh as much as a hundred kilograms. After bathing in the nearby Sungei Batu (Rocky River), the devotees make their way to the Temple Cave and climb the flights of stairs to the temple in the cave. Devotees use the wider centre staircase while worshippers and onlookers throng up and down those balustrades on either side. When the kavadi bearer arrives at the foot of the 272-step stairway leading up to the Temple Cave, the devotee has to make the arduous climb. Priests attend to the kavadi bearers. Consecrated ash is sprinkled over the hooks and skewers piercing the devotees' flesh before they are removed. No blood is shed during the piercing and removal.
Thaipusam is celebrated at Arulmigu Sri Balathandayuthapani Temple (Hilltop) along Jalan Waterfall in George Town, Penang. It is one of the main events in Penang. On the eve of Thaipusam , a silver chariot with the statue of Lord Muruga is led on a procession, accompanied by Chettiar kavadis or devotees, carrying peacock feathers. The procession usually starts at 6.00am departing from Kovil Veedu (House Temple) on Penang Street and traveling through Chulia Street, Victoria Street, Prangin Road Ghaut, C.Y. Choy Road, Magazine Road(KOMTAR), Datuk Keramat Road, Irving Road, Jalan Utama and Waterfall Road on its route. It reaches the Nattukottai Chettiar Temple on Waterfall Road at about midnight, culminating a 15 hour journey . On the eve day, coconuts are smashed on the roads before the chariot to symbolise the shattering of one’s ego in the pursuit of self-realization. In addition, devotees also make offerings of fruits, flowers and incense to the Lord Muruga in the Silver Chariot.
On Thaipusam Day, devotees undertake a pilgrimage from the Lorong Kulit temple to the new Waterfall temple, Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Kovil. It is located high on a hill. Carrying kavadis can be an act of penance or fulfillment of a vow done to develop spirituality. The kavadis can take the form of Paal Kudam (milk pots) as offerings to god or in the form of physical endurance by piercing the cheeks, tongue, or skin on the body with hooks and Vel skewers. The new Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani temple can accommodate up to 800,000 devotees for the annual Thaipusam Festival. Devotees need to climb over 500 steps to reach the hilltop temple. This is more than the 272 steps at the famous Batu Caves (Kuala Lumpur). Upon reaching the temple, devotees will fulfill their vows, offer thanksgiving prayers and penance to Lord Muruga.
On the next day, the silver chariot with Lord Muruga makes a return trip to Kovil Veedu on Penang Street. The return trip from the Waterfall temple lasts from 6.00 pm until dawn the next day. It takes a different route back, passing through Waterfall Road, Gottlieb Road, Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman, Cantonment Road, Macalister Road, Anson Road, Burmah Road, Transfer Road, Sri Bahari Road, Penang Road, Campbell Street, Buckingham Street, Jalan Mesjid Kapitan Keling, Chulia Street, Queen Street, Market Street, China Street, Beach Street and Penang Street. On this day, the same activities that were carried out on the eve of Thaipusam are carried out again along the route of the procession.
During this three-day celebration, one can find over 100 beautifully decorated stalls erected along Western Road and Gottlieb Road. These stalls sell traditional Indian goods, souvenirs, decorative items and snacks and refreshments. Thunderous loud music, singing, dancing and the beating of drums can be seen and heard from afar throughout the festival. This is a festival of rich culture and deep tradition in Penang. The festival is also celebrated at the Sri Subramaniar Temple in Gunong Cheroh, Ipoh.Sungai Petani, Kedah.
Penang Thaipusam Festival
ThaiPusam in Singapore
In Singapore, Hindu devotees start their procession at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in the early morning, carrying milk pots as offerings or attaching "kavadis" and spikes pierced on their body. The procession travels for 4 kilometres before finishing at Tank Road, Sri Thendayuthapani Temple.
On the previous day, the deity Lord Sri Thendayuthapani is taken on a procession in the Silver Chariot to Sri Layan Sithi Vinayagar temple and returns in the evening followed by Chettiar Kavadies and other devotees. This event is popularly called as Chetty Pusam in Singapore.
On Thaipusam day, hundreds of devotees offer prayers either by piercing their body with spikes and lemon, pulling a chariot or carrying Kavadis from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple. The devotees then offer their prayers and fulfill their vows. The Vel (holy spear) in the sanctum is showered with milk continuously for hours. Several Chinese devotees and people of other religion and races also come to fulfill their vows on this day.
Sri Thendayuthapani temple is celebrating this festival in Singapore for more than hundred years with pomp and splendour. Annathanam (Free Food) is provided from 12.30 pm to 4.00 pm on THAIPUSAM day, at the Chettiar Wedding Hall located within the temple premises.
Although rare, scenes of people from different ethnic groups and faiths bearing "kavadi" can also be seen in Malaysia. Thaipusam is also increasingly being celebrated by the ethnic Chinese in Malaysia and Singapore.
Some more explanations ………..
Muruga is the one who possesses beauty - connotes everlasting fragrance, youth, divinity and beauty.
Kavo – load - in the form of suffering; tari-rod of wood.
Celebrated mostly in India - Tamil Nadu, Ceylon, Malaysia, Singapore and Mauritius
Can be offered at any time but most convenient occasion is on chaturdassi sukla paksha of month magha (jan-feb) also known as Thai poosam day (mid January)
People take a vow to offer-carry kavadi to lord Muruga for the purpose of tiding over or averting a great calamity. Asking for protection.
Kavadi is made of wood in a semi-circle pattern with a base. It is decked with flowers, peacock feathers, sandalwood paste and brass bells which represent that the bearer is coming. At either ends there are two pots enclosed in cloth. There can be in the pots-milk, banana, sandal, sugar, rice or other articles which the devotee has vowed to offer the Lord.
Niyamas to be observe before and till the day of offering.
- To perform elaborate ceremonies at the time of assuming and offering kavadi.
- To take bath in a river and put the dress of a Pandaara Bhakta. It consists of a saffron-colored cloth, a scarlet conical cap and a cane, silver capped on both ends.
- Besmears with vibhuthi.
- Live on bhiksha (alms).
- Observe celibacy.
- Bare chest is covered with rudraksha-malas.
- Takes only sathwic food.
- No shaving.
- Eats only once a day.
- Abstains from all sorts of intoxicating drinks and drugs.
- Dwells in the thought of the lord always.
- Observes mouna (silence).
Some devotees impose various sorts of torture or penance in fulfillment of a vow taken by them. Some devotees attain to Avesha Bhakti (when the glory of lord Muruga is chanted, devotees become ecstatic and start dancing. At the same moment, the devotee offers the milk to the deity and makes his obeisance to lord Muruga.
A devotee bearing a kavadi is bound to get lord Muruga’s blessings. Since Muruga is red, the sacred thread red in color is selected for his worship-red flowers.
Asura-Idumban wanted to change his conduct and attitude. Agastya muni initiated him into the secret-due to the influence of his guru-a great transformation took place. The Guru asked Idumban to go to Kailash and bring him two peaks - Sivagiri and Satigiri . Idumban obeyed and place the two peaks on both ends of a piece of wood and returned to meet his guru (carrying them on his shoulders). Muruga very pleased-change and faithfulness- made idumban lose his way the lord came on a horse and offered to show the way. At Pazhani Malai, the lord asked idumban to rest for a while-idumban fell asleep and lord Muruga took the form of a child-hid himself in one of the peaks. Finding one side heavy, Idumban discovered a child-taking as an asura-try to beat-Muruga lifted his hand and idumban fell dead-Agastya muni and idumbi came and the life of idumban was restored and made him, his servant. Henceforth, all those who carry kavadi in lord Muruga’s name will receive his blessing.
Compiled by : ADIRAJ PENTIAH